Last week, I spoke at a Migration Law Forum where I discussed what my immigration policies would be if Tasmania seceded and I became their Minister for Immigration. So here’s a little taste of my inaugural speech to the sovereign Tasmanian Parliament.
Tasmania, brace yourselves, we’ve finally done it: we’ve excised ourselves from the mainland. While the Australian Parliament was obsessively trying to erase itself from the refugee map and no one was looking, we became a sovereign country.
No longer will we be the source of dinner table comedy about incest, or the state left off children’s drawings of Australia. Sorry, Western Australia, but we totally outmanoeuvred you on the whole secession front.
We have a slight problem, though: we’re tiny. We need to grow. We need to stimulate our newly independent economy.
Since I’ve now been dubiously elected as Tasmania’s Minister for Immigration (despite not even being a resident) and tasked with drafting its immigration policies, I guess I had better learn a little more about this fledgling nation. Wikipedia kindly informs me there are just over half a million citizens of this idyllic Apple Isle.
So I asked my most trusted policy advisors, or as I refer to them, Facebook friends, to offer me some policy guidance. Suggestions came in quickly: ranging from a Deng Xiaoping style ‘Open Door Policy’ to immediate visa on arrival for all our poor Queensland neighbours.
While a generous immigration policy is desirable, we need some guiding principles to ensure that we become the nation of the ‘fair go.’
Let’s begin by looking at our population demographics. It seems that 90 percent of Tasmanian citizens were born here. Genealogically, most can be traced to some form of British descent. If, as the idiom goes, diversity is the spice of life, then Tasmania, we are struggling. Ethnic homogeneity is not conducive to more exciting cuisine. I mean, I love smoked salmon as much as the next person, but imagine the possibilities if we had the expertise to curry or satay a dish. More importantly, we’ll be able to shift our reputation as a being a bunch of Anglo-Saxon, moderately incestuous, hyperactive procreators. Reputation and cuisine is everything, right?
So how will this translate into policy reform? A reverse ‘White Australia Policy’, if you will. We could call it our ‘Immigrant Isle Policy.’ That, or ‘No more White People.’ Though the racist overtones of the latter would probably sit uncomfortably with our current electorates.
We should follow this with promotional YouTube campaign videos, borrowing from our Second World War ‘Join Us’ poster aesthetics, and say: ‘Immigrants, Your (Future) Country Needs You.’ We should start the targeted campaigns in Indonesia and Malaysia. After all, we’ve got a rich source of transiting asylum flows to diversify our national demographics and grant protection at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.
Now that we have a way to increase our population diversity, we need to direct our expanding immigration regime towards our economic future. Much of Tasmania’s economic prosperity is geared towards tertiary services, so it’s time to rethink the relationship between migration and economic growth. Two words spring to mind: CULTURE and TOURISM.
We need to remedy our historical lack of diversity. It’s probably not news to anyone that we have a troubled history of respecting difference: from dispossessing the Traditional Owners from their lands to persecuting sexual minorities. Embarrassing would be an understatement when describing the fact Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality, and that was only after the Australian Parliament chided us using their legislative supremacy.
That said, we’ve come a long way since then. We even came excruciatingly close to being the first state to legislate same-sex marriage. As a sovereign country, without constitutional impediments in our way, we should move to make marriage equality a reality. With the mass migration of same-sex couples with high disposable incomes seeking marital bliss/burden, our economy will receive a much-needed stimulation.
We could also make Hobart the home of the Mardi Gras. Sydney has had it for 35 years. Time to share the love - literally.
On a different note, we should move to get Australia’s offshore processing started right here. We could use the billions to expand the Museum of Old and New Art and create the MONA processing centre.
We can process asylum seekers in an artistically appealing location, and improve our cultural infrastructure at the same time. A little art appreciation is something that refugees and citizens alike can partake in together in the community.
More importantly, our air-conditioned MONA inspired processing is a lot cheaper than waiting indefinitely inside sweltering tents on Nauru.
If Australia wants to be fiscally irresponsible when it comes to outsourcing their international obligations, I say we just accept their ‘no advantage’ rhetoric, and take their money and asylum seekers. It’s not like policy sense seems to matter when you are seduced by wedge politics to ‘stop the boats.’
As the Minister for Immigration, it would be remiss of me if I did not mention the broader reputational potential of my proposed humanitarian visa strategy: we can offer asylum while seeking out more participants for The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It is, after all, our national pastime and we must continue to excel in it.
Though we should be careful, if the Australian MPs find out that we are processing asylum seekers quickly, right in the heart of our cultural icons, our refugee and art ‘slush fund’ may become the next political scandal. They may forgo debating reforms to public education or the National Disability Insurance Scheme in order to spend weeks commenting on our artistic acquisitions. That, or they may invade us. But that’s a matter for our Defence Minister.
Our policies, however, will not be a soft touch. We cannot afford to have ‘illegals’ taking advantage of our hospitality. If those American or English backpackers have the audacity to pick our apples and then overstay their visas, we may need to think about passing mandatory detention laws. Though, on reflection, the idea of confining horny backpackers to a shared space may be more pleasurable than punitive.
As a new country, now is the time to make our sassy mark on the world. With my bold approach, the ‘Immigrant Isle Policy’ will be the next Nobel Peace Prize winning concept.
Senthorun Raj is a Churchill Fellow.